Allies help UK's Cameron prevail in EU showdown

BRUSSELS Sat Nov 24, 2012 7:24am IST

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of an EU leaders summit discussing the EU's long-term budget at the European Union (EU) council headquarters in Brussels November 23, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of an EU leaders summit discussing the EU's long-term budget at the European Union (EU) council headquarters in Brussels November 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Vidal

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron gained allies in his fight against EU spending rises on Friday to avoid having to wield a solitary veto that would have further isolated Britain and fuelled questions about its future in the 27-nation bloc.

The collapse of talks in Brussels to agree a 1-trillion-euro budget also meant Cameron for now will avoid having to present a deal to a fractious parliament that defeated him last month in a vote calling for European Union spending cuts.

That undermined Cameron's authority and raised doubts about how he would appease anti-EU rebels in his Conservative Party without upsetting partners in Europe, Britain's biggest trading partner.

Last December, Cameron angered many EU neighbours when he became the first British prime minister to veto an EU treaty, blocking plans for stricter fiscal rules in the euro zone. He warned he was prepared to do it again.

There was talk of the other 26 countries reaching a budget deal without Britain, while the opposition Labour Party said Britain under Cameron risked "sleepwalking" out of the EU.

"There might have been (attempts) to say let's just put the British in a box over there and do a deal without them," Cameron said after the talks ended. "That didn't work because there are other countries that I worked with very closely."

Cameron, who wants a budget freeze, said Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark supported tighter spending controls. Attempts to find a 2014-2020 budget will resume early next year.

BALANCING ACT

Cameron faced a difficult balancing act. Trailing in opinion polls, he had to appear tough to the growing chunk of voters who would vote to leave the EU, seen by critics as a wasteful super-state that threatens British sovereignty.

He also was squeezed by anti-EU Conservatives, a group that unseated former leader Margaret Thatcher and wants to use the euro zone crisis to rethink Britain's EU role.

However, Britain had to be careful to avoid upsetting its main trading partner at a time of austerity. London also wants to retain influence before a critical summit next month on plans for a European banking union.

Cameron's pro-European coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, had warned him to tone down the anti-EU talk.

According to one EU diplomat, Cameron "played it well", defying expectations he would be the "bad guy", and winning the support of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Labour-supporting Guardian newspaper said the scale of the divisions among the other countries had helped Cameron.

"With no one in Europe agreeing on anything, he could strike a moderate tone," it said in an editorial.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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